Max’s Last Meal [UPDATED]

August 12, 2009 at 3:18 pm (By Amba)

I feel like an idiot, just like I knew I would.

I knew I was going to break and spend several hundred dollars I can’t afford to hear a vet tell me what I already know:  that our cat Max is at the end of his life.  And sure enough . . .

Max has been failing:  losing weight, sleeping by the water bowl despite the subcutaneous fluids I had begun giving him.  He was eating hungrily, but that was one of two things:  Max has always loved food more than anything, and it was his last pleasure (I can relate); and/or he was feeding a cancer.  He came to us as an adult so I’m not precisely sure of his age, but seventeen is a good guess.  When a seventeen-year-old cat starts to go downhill, it’s usually kidney failure, cancer, or both

The last couple of days, Max was unable to eat much (though still interested), drinking less, breathing a little fast, a little labored.  Two days ago his belly began to swell with fluid.  He just lay in a corner, and I thought it was time to have a vet come to the house and euthanize him.

Then he got up, ate, drank, washed his face, scratched himself (staggering a bit), and came over to hang out with me.  He still seemed interested in living, so (after consulting my beloved vet friend Rick from New York who now lives in SC) I decided I had to look into the slim chance that it was something treatable for a little while, like heart failure.

This always happens.  And it never ends well.

*     *     *

Max was given to us in the mid-’90s, along with his portrait, by the artist Bill Adams (an old family friend of the Love Goddess), who was about to marry a video artist who was allergic.  (Freed from reality, the cats in Bill’s art have gone on to become quite fantastic, even a little scary.)  A few months after the transfer, Bill came over to visit.  As we sat across the table from each other, Max went and lay down on the table in front of Bill.  As the time approached for Bill to leave, Max pointedly got down from the table and lay down on my feet.  He could not have made himself clearer.  I was greatly touched.

The editorial asssistant.

The editorial asssistant.

It’s a rare cat that can walk into a household of strange adult cats and not cause a ruckus.  Max was that cat.  It’s the territorial terror of the newcomer, the stink of fear, that usually sets off aggression from the homeboys.  Max simply walked in calmly like he owned the place, so the other cats shrugged and guessed he did.

He was just a Humane Society kitten, but he had the air of a portly and faintly melancholy gentleman, and the tastes of a reincarnated gourmet chef.  Max doesn’t just love food, he loves well-prepared food with spices and sauces, much preferring it to raw or plain cooked meat.  Dinnertime approaching?  He ‘s on the table, purring with anticipation.  We let him, because it’s usually just us.  Our occasional guests either roll their eyes and tolerate it or remove him gently to the floor, where he is consoled with his own plate in the kitchen.


Max is deeply kind.  Lucky, the cat we rescued from Romania, who had been a tom for many years, used to attack him.  And yet, when Lucky was blind, deaf, and dying of kidney failure, Max lay down touching him.  Again he made his meaning clear.  There was no other way to understand it than as an attempt to comfort and orient.  Since then I’ve called him Dr. Max.  Other effanineffable nicknames; Perp (from “he’s so orange he’s almost purple”) and Roadie (from “Roadblock,” because he’s always right where you want to go).


*    *    *

The vet cut to the chase, doing an x-ray and a tap of the fluid in Max’s abdomen as the best way of getting the big picture.  The x-ray showed fluid in his chest as well as belly, probably making him feel as if he’s suffocating.  The tap showed lymphocytes in the fluid.  Probable lymphoma.

We could either do more tests to be sure, plus some palliative, temporary fluid removal, or put him to sleep.  Only the latter made any sense, and not just financially.  I was prepared for this.  I hadn’t wanted to cry and get the professional comforting, but of course I did that too.

I wasn’t tough enough to have him put down right then and there in the vet’s cold, bright office.  I wanted J to see him again and I wanted Max to be at home, comfortable and happy.  So I’ve arranged to have one of the vets come over tomorrow morning.  Costs more, but what the hell.  It’s the diagnosis I should’ve skipped.  This is the good part of my folly, the part that’s not negotiable.  The vet gave Max a lasix shot to reduce the fluid and keep him comfortable.  He’s much more able to purr and express his relief at being home.  (And of course J is saying, “Maybe you shouldn’t be in too much of a hurry to put him to sleep.”)

So now I’m pondering what to make for dinner tonight.  Tilapia, I think, dusted with flour and cumin and browned in a mixture of canola and toasted dark sesame oil.  Max loves that.  So do we.  He’ll be on the table, and we’ll eat together for the last time.

One year ago

One year ago

UPDATE: We did make the fish; and as the aroma of cooking circulated through the apartment, Max did indeed appear.

Max's last meal.

Max's last meal.

But he didn’t lie down on the table and purr afterwards the way I hoped he would.  Instead, he hurried back to the bathroom to lie down behind the toilet — a cat’s way of saying “I feel like shit.”  (I’ve actually seen a sick cat express this by lying down in its litterbox.)  He reappeared twice more tonight asking with rueful eyes for more fish, ate, and after eating, retreated back to the bathroom rather than lying down comfortably and companionably.  While that was a disappointment, it was also a heavy-hearted confirmation that we’re on the only possible path.

There’s been a change in J from a year ago, too.JMax's

THURSDAY MORNING: Ave atque vale, Max.  He came out and spent the better part of an hour purring with me before the vet came.


  1. Randy said,

    Oh dear. I am so sorry. Just what you didn’t need right at this moment. He looks so beautiful. I especially like the book shot. What a wonderful and extremely long life Max has had thanks to you. It’s never easy letting a treasure such as Max cross the rainbow bridge. Here’s hoping you enjoy your meal tonight, cry when you feel like, but also laugh and recall the delightful memories you’ve shared.

  2. Maxwell said,

    Oh, amba, I’m so sorry. He sounds a great deal like our Alvin, who’s also a gentle gourmand.

    I wish you guys solace, and a sweet time together tonight.

  3. david said,

    Poor Maxie. Way to see him out in style.

  4. PatHMV said,

    I’m so sad to read this! Max is lucky to be in such caring hands. I love that picture of Max on the table with Jacques behind him. I’m so glad you brought him home for his last hours.

  5. El Pollo Real said,

    It’s always sad to lose a pet. We’re on our 3rd and 4th cat. The first two, a brother and sister, were adopted in Denver and moved around with us for years before we settled in Oceanside. One met a horrific death in automatic garage door; the other just up and disappeared one night several years later. Our current two, 2 and 8 years old, were adopted as kittens from the pound as replacements.

    It must be worse to lose a pet slowly, seeing the very life slip away, and I feel for you.

  6. Ron said,

    What a beautiful post, Amba…I am flummoxed have no words of solace to match the humanity of what you have here.

  7. Donna B. said,

    The picture of Max with the books is wonderful. I’m always comforted when surrounded by books too. I’m so sorry you’re losing him.

  8. Ennui said,

    I, too, had a little humane society cat (name Cato) who died a few years back. It made me melancholy for some time. I was comforted by the fact that, like Max, he was a cat’s cat (i.e., he got pretty much whatever he wanted when he wanted it – and made us love him on top of all that). And, also like Max, his circumstances allowed a dignified end (he attempted to stand up one last time – and then laid back down and settled into the long sleep).

    Remembering that little guy always puts me in mind of that quote from Boswell’s Life of Johnson at the beginning of Pale Fire

    This reminds me of the ludicrous account which he gave Mr. Langton, of the despicable state of a young Gentleman of good family. ‘Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.’ And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favourite cat, and said, ‘But Hodge shan’t be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.’

    In any case, based on what you wrote, I’m pretty certain that Max had about as good a run on this planet as a creature can have. And that’s not nothing.

  9. Melinda said,

    I’m so sorry. You guys were lucky to have Max, and he was lucky to have you.

  10. michael reynolds said,

    It’s a shame, Annie. Sorry you have to go through it. He seems like a good and consequential kitty.

  11. amba12 said,

    Death just seems wrong. Very puzzling: how can something that always wins be wrong??

  12. amba12 said,

    Michael, I love that. It would make a good epitaph. Like, “He was some kind of a man.”

  13. huxley said,


    A year ago I was adopted by a feral cat who kept appearing in my backyard. I loved the little fellow. We had about six months together before his torso filled up with fluid and his heart wasn’t working right and I had to pay several hundred dollars to put ol’ Squeak down.

    A noble cat. I’m glad I had the pleasure of his company but Lord his parting hurt.

  14. amba12 said,

    There’s a terrible disease called Feline Infectious Peritonitis in which they fill up with fluid. It’s caused by, I think, a coronavirus. That virus got into one of our two cat households before we were married. I had a horror of it more than any other disease of cats. It’s not the only thing that can cause that symptom, though.

  15. Darcy said,

    I’m sorry, Amba. I enjoyed your memories and thoughts of your dear Max.

  16. Eric Williams said,

    As lover of cats I share your pain and sadness. I dread the day my son has to say goodbye to one of the kitties. He’s 11mo now and they’re 6yrs and 3yrs. Assuming continued good health, my son will be crying his eyes out at about age 10. :(

  17. Ruth Anne said,

    Is there a cat equivalent to The Rainbow Bridge? I hope so. St. Francis loved all the creatures great and small and gave me great comfort when our dog died. I’ll ask St. Francis to work his saintly magic chez Gottlieb/Sandelescu.

  18. amba12 said,

    Eric, my magnificent neighbor used to say of cats, “They’re perfect. There’s only one thing wrong with them: their lives are too short.” This mismatch between the human and feline lifespans is very distressing. They live just long enough to seem like permanent parts of your life and heart before being ripped out of it.

    Anticipating the inevitable pain you wish you could protect your kid from …

    Dogs’ lives are even shorter.

  19. amba12 said,

    Ruth Anne: thank you. I know the Pope would be sad.

  20. Ron said,

    When a friend of mine’s cat died we actually had an Irish wake for him…I know it sounds goofy, but it helped all of us who liked him a lot…

    Support and care for you, one posting at a time…

  21. amba12 said,

    Irish wake? Makes sense to me.

  22. Danny said,

    Oh, so very sad. I’m glad you did it at home instead of at the vet’s office. Max was so lucky to have you guys.

  23. karen said,

    God, amba- how i love you… i am so sorry to hear this news.

    If i were a cat i’d lie at your feet, too- you treat all the way you would want to be treated. Loyalty is your reward. Hugs, amba. To J, as well.

  24. david said,

    Any animal — four-legged or otherwise — would be lucky to have you love it to the end.

  25. michael reynolds said,


    Okay, you want to take down that last bit about Jacques not looking the same.

    I’m just saying, if something happens to Jacques . . . let’s say an accident. Yeah: an accident. That’s it. A jury might think you were conflating him and the kitty.

    (Don’t piss her off, Jacques: she has syringes!)

  26. amba12 said,

    *helpless laughter* It crossed my mind after I wrote that that someone was going to read it that way. I decided it was too “protests too much” to protest that that’s not what I meant.

  27. Courtney Haynes said,

    I just read Max’s story and viewed the pictures. Both were wonderful. Thank you for sharing them.

  28. Sissy Willis said,

    My heart is breaking for you. A beautiful tribute with unbearable echoes. I love that Max was purring with you to the very end.

  29. Icepick said,

    Annie, I just looked at thiss blog for the first time in months. I am sorry to hear about Max, and your post on his euthanasia makes me feel that much better about the vet who euthanised our Spats – confident and skilled helps one’s emotional state tremendously.

    As for death, it is a feature not a bug. Without it individual lives might last longer, but that would just stultify evolution, and cripple LIFE in the long run. Individual notes begin and end, but the grand symphony plays on.

    (Highly unlikely I will see any follow ups. Just curious about how life was treating you.)

  30. Rick said,

    Life is not perfect…………..we must learn to live with the times which try to be perfect.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: